Long ago, there reigned a clan of Speedo-wearing militaristic psychopaths called the Spartans. They lived beneath a copper-colored sky, on copper-colored land, amid copper-colored fields, in copper-colored homes, where they would outline their copper-colored pecs with ash and grunt about manly honor.
In that strange time, among those strange people, a constant voice rang out from the heavens to declaim the totally butch awesomeness of Spartan deed. History remembers their ethos: “Only the hard and strong may call himself Spartan. Only the hard. The strong.”
Such magnificent verbiage was memorialized by Frank Miller in 300, his graphic novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which the titular quantity of Spartan studs fend off a billion gazillion Persian invaders. Marshaling the full resources of high-end computer imaging and hardcore nerditude, writer-director Zack Snyder (he of the unexpectedly decent Dawn of the Dead remake) has brought Miller’s book to “life” by lathering pancake makeup on his actors and pasting them into digital backgrounds.
Taking the synthetic blockbuster one step closer to total animation, the weightless, monochromatic 300 makes Sin City look like grungy neorealism. It’s a plodding, visually dull picture, but the blame doesn’t rest with Snyder’s skills. The problem has nothing to do with his ambition to blur the distinction between CGI and photography; rather, it’s the slavish devotion to Miller’s source material. Snyder seems to have forgotten that movies can actually move.
Certain action scenes satisfy the action-buff’s bloodlust, and Snyder occasionally makes good use of the lessons of The Matrix, slowing the slices, dices and decapitations to a digitally calibrated crawl to relish all 360 degrees of stupendous ass-kickery. You can never go wrong with rampaging battle elephants. Throw in some silver-masked ninja magicians and an 8-foot-tall god-king who looks like RuPaul beyond Thunderdome (Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes), and you’ll find 10 minutes of 300 worth posting on YouTube.
The movie is more notable for its outrageous sexual confusion. These Spartans come across as pinheaded gym bunnies, but the movie worships them. Or, anyway, their flesh: King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 299 buddies in nothing but leather man-panties, torsos oiled, clutching a variety of phalluses they seek to thrust into the bodies of their foes. Not since Beau Travail has a phalanx of meatheads received such insistent ogling. As for the threat to peace, freedom and democracy, that filthy Persian orgy looks way more fun than sitting around watching Spartans mope.